For some time, I’ve been thinking about what the best setup would be for a cheap, yet proper kit of items to take along for blogging purposes when one is moving about a lot. Erik Hersman asked a similar question with his Weapons of Choice article. A lot of great people (and me) chimed in there as everyone loves showing off their gadgets. That was all a lot of fun, but what if you can’t or don’t want to lug around a laptop? What if having a DSLR is going to be more of a hindrance (due to its size) than a help? And most importantly, what about if you’re just going to be getting online via internet cafes?
In addition to all these questions, let’s toss in to the mix that we want to keep it cheap, but at the same time durable so that if it needs to last it can, but at the same time, it’s more affordable to a greater group of people. You could maybe call all of this the “African Blogging Kit”, but I think that it is something that can apply to just about anybody who is dynamic, on the go, and needing the information they collect, write, and relay to be lightweight and easy to deal with.
This is by far #1 on the list. These days, a lot of storage comes cheap. For instance, this one is only $10, yet has 4gb of storage and an aluminum case for durability. One might say that you can store pretty much everything you need in email these days and access it as needed, but I have yet to be in any internet cafe outside the US where my GMail account is snappy enough to warrant this. Also, having your files accessible in an offline format is always preferable in my book. And if you don’t own your own computer, then this is really the absolute best way to maintain your data. Additionally, if you need to carry around your local language font in order to type in a language like say… Bambara or Fula, then this is an absolute must.
Upgrade: 8,16, or 32gb drive, although the cost goes up a good deal at the higher end.
Notebook and Pens
This vies with the Flash Drive for a top spot, although it’s a lot easier to store the details of an event in your head than a PDF file, so that’s why the Flash Drive wins out. Still, memory fails us and we need to write things down. It goes without saying that a notebook and a couple of reliable pens are pretty important to the dynamic blogger. For me personally, I don’t like spiral bound notebooks are the spiral part gets tangled up in just about everything you have in your bag, but they are the cheapest and can lay flat on a table, so it’s really a matter of preference.
Upgrade: For notebooks, costlier options than cheap Mead notebooks are Moleskin or my personal favorite, Miquel Rius. For pens, it seems that most people love the Zebra Pen and someday, I need to give them a try over the ubiquitous Bic that are in such abundance.
Unlocked Mobile Phone
You need it. You love it. Get a local SIM for it as soon as you arrive somewhere. Their convenience is as endless as the choices. Anyone who moves around knows that you’ve just got to have one if you’re talking to people. As for models, my only real preference is Nokia and cheap. The Nokia have been the most rock solid phone for me just about anywhere I go with great battery life (which is a key factor) and solid construction. You can usually pick one up for less than $20 used, which offers a great value.
Upgrade: The only limit here is cost. If you are blogging to a site that is powered by an SMS gateway like Frontline SMS (as Maneno will be down the road), then a full QWERTY keyboard on the phone is quite handy. It’s also nice just for banging out text messages. Of course, these fancy phones are generally more expensive, bulky, and suck up more power.
Point and Shoot Digital Camera
This gets more in to that gray area of “nice to have” as you don’t have to have photos. Still, a well written text article is great, but it’s nearly impossible to compete with one that has a photo as well. In regards to equipment, everyone goes nuts about cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II and yes, that’s a great camera, but if you know what you’re doing, a nice fellow like the Canon A470 for around $90 does a fantastic job. Plus, a compact point and shoot is a lot easier to carry around and it doesn’t freak people out as much as the barrel of a huge lens in their face. I’m a fan of the small form factor and cost when it comes to a camera and needing to be portable. Plus, you can usually shoot decent video with them as well. The only down side to the camera is storage. If you’re relying on the aforementioned Flash Drive and the camera memory to keep all your photos, you’re going to run out of space quite fast unless you’re just uploading everything to the web and deleting it from the camera. This is definitely not an ideal option, which is why the camera falls rather far down on the list due to all the added hassle it brings. Oh, make sure that whatever you get, that it doesn’t have a proprietary battery format and you can snap in a couple of AA batteries in the off chance you are far between places to charge the camera’s batteries.
Upgrade: Obviously, you can spend more than $90 on a camera. Geez, you can spend $20,000 for an amazing camera body and incredible lenses, but why? If all you want are photos to illustrate an article, then it’s just not necessary. One upgrade that may be worth looking in to are multiple large memory cards for the camera so that you don’t have to shoot in a low format and/or download so often.
USB Cable et al
You’re often not going to find an easy way to get those photos from that camera to the computer unless you luck out and the internet cafe has a reader for your specific card format. Just to be safe, carry a USB cable. They’re just a dollar or two and even if you don’t use it, you might make some very grateful friends along the way who forgot theirs.
Upgrade: Firewire is nearly dead these days, thanks to USB 2.0 so forget needing one of those. Otherwise, you could spend $50 on a fancy cable, but why? You’re probably going to be transmitting photo data to a desktop computer, not the human genome out in to space.
These fellows start making things more expensive quite fast, but a sound recorder like the Zoom H2 or H4 can be a nice addition. A compact video recorder like the Flip is great as well, but completely unneeded if you have a digital camera that shoots video as well.
But that’s about it as I can see it. A solid kit to blog like crazy when out and about without carrying around or buying something akin to what the CIA uses for surveillance. If you have any other ideas on what to add or think my suggestions are ridiculous, the comments await you below.